Archive for Thursday, March 12, 2009

Column: Callahan brothers left mark at BHS

March 12, 2009

Each year, high school seniors leave the world of prep sports and move on to bigger and better things.

A few of those seniors usually leave a mark on their specific sport that is remembered for a long time. Heather Garcia left Baldwin High School last May with nine state gold medals and numerous records.

In the world of small-town high school sports, it’s often families that impact their school. One child will come and go while another is just entering the high school. Once the final one graduates, the program misses them more than words can say.

My best example — excuse my running bias, it’s in my blood — is Matt and Megan Noonan. They brought home handfuls of gold medals for BHS, including six state team titles for the boys’ cross country and track squads.

Although coach Mike Spielman seems to reload on talent every year, those two left a legacy at Baldwin High. I was lucky enough to be a part of that for a few years.

During my four-plus years as the Signal sports writer, I’ve been lucky enough to follow another pair of siblings. Their name is well known around the mat.

For five seasons, the Callahan brothers have cemented their place in Bulldog wrestling lore. BHS coach Kit Harris was a little emotional after Alan Callahan’s final match at the state meet Feb. 28.

“They’ve been such a cornerstone of our program for five years,” Harris said. “I’m mostly sad, because I don’t get to coach them anymore. They are great kids. They are hard workers and definitely raised the bar in our practice room. They worked for every bit of success they had. They were definitely blue-collar wrestlers.”

It’s hard to put into words what the Callahans have done during their years as Bulldogs. Well, for starters, they hold seven school records. Alan set two this season — takedowns (120) and team points (299).

Kevin set one, nearfalls-2 (46) as a junior. During his sophomore campaign, he set four others. Those were technical falls (15), nearfalls-3 (57), total nearfalls (100) and match points (452).

Oh, there are also a couple of state records, too. Alan set the state team points record this season with 1,055.5. The one record they might be best known for is the state career wins record.

Older brother Kevin, a 2008 BHS graduate, capped off his incredible career a year ago with a state championship, which was the only state title between the brothers. He set the career wins record at 171 with his title.

Watching Kevin win that title was one of the happiest moments in my short career as a sports journalist. I started here during the beginning of his freshman season, but I watched him every season. It was an honor to be a part of his (and Alan’s) career.

Kevin placed fourth as a freshman at state and second as a sophomore and junior. I sat quietly during his final match, just taking pictures, but on the inside I was cheering for him.

He was always and still is one of the nicest athletes I’ve talked to and gotten to know over the years. He always gave an interview and had the right things to say every time. The image of him jumping into Harris’ arms after winning his state title will be etched in my memory forever.

Then this wrestling season rolled around and all of the talk was about how it was Alan’s time to follow in his brother’s footsteps. His career as a dominant grappler didn’t begin quite as young as Kevin’s did. However, Alan burst on the scene as a freshman by placing sixth at state, after injury defaulting because of a broken leg.

He followed that up with a third-place finish as a sophomore. His junior campaign ended early when he failed to medal at state. Combine that with his brother’s state title and Alan had plenty of determination this winter.

Each tournament it was easy to see his goal was a state championship. Alan didn’t care that he was closing in on Kevin’s wins record. He wanted to be at the top of his weight class when it counted the most.

Alan came so close to that goal. He advanced to the state finals for the first time in his career. That was the first step. Then came the final match. Unfortunately, he ran into Saint James’ Taylor Moeder and lost the title. It was tough to watch the match as I wanted Alan to repeat Kevin’s senior year. His brother did, too.

“I was proud of Al after it was all done,” K. Callahan said. “It hurt me more than anything. I wanted him to know what it feels like to win a state title and stand on top. I know how hard he worked. I've been there for a good majority of what he's put into it. If anything, he's worked harder and been more dedicated than I was. If I could I'd give him mine, just because I know he wanted it that bad and deserves it. He's still the best in my book and always will be.”

It was also an honor to watch Alan’s career unfold before me. Like his brother, he was always happy to talk to me and usually had a smile on his face. He even spoke to me shortly after his final match.

After it was all said and done, the Callahans combined for 342 victories during their time at BHS. Yep, each brother won 171 matches. They are tied for the state career wins record. If Alan, had beat Moeder, he would sit atop alone. That’s how Kevin dreamed of it happening.

“I hate it that he tied my record, because I know he could have beat it,” K. Callahan said. “I wanted him to win it and beat my record. I wanted that for him. It’s nice to share it and it means a lot to me, but the way I pictured it was him breaking my record. Now it’s our record and I couldn’t be more proud of my little brother.”

While it’s uncertain how long the Callahans will hold the state record, one thing is certain — the BHS wrestling program won’t be the same next year. Thanks for the years of success Callahans. You’re part of the reason I enjoy this job as much as I do.


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